From most of my Island Tides columns, one could conclude that my every waking hour was absorbed in documenting the horrific decisions of the current federal government. It has become a truism that Mr Harper seeks decision-based evidence-making in preference to evidence-based decision-making.
Fortunately, a great deal of my life is spent working with wonderful initiatives in Saanich-Gulf Islands. It is well recognized that the area, like much of Canada, has a housing crisis. We need low-income housing and we need affordable housing. With the federal government having backed out of housing in the previous Liberal deficit-cutting era, the current federal government has only extended its reach to help for housing for the disabled, seniors and First Nations. And even in those categories the federal help is minimal.
The good news is the great variety of local initiatives in housing. These tend to be volunteer-run, charitably funded and largely under the radar. One of the champs in this area is the Royal Canadian Legion. It was a wonderful surprise to me to realize that all those poppy sales not only help veterans (and do a lot of powerful good in funding programmes for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and other programmes the Department of Veterans Affairs should be doing, but isn’t), but also support projects for housing for any low-income senior—regardless of whether they are veterans or not.
Out on East Saanich Road, Legion Manor is a fabulous, wellrun facility for low income seniors. It includes 77 rooms for independent living for individuals as well as 66 units for supported extended care and for seniors with disabilities. Legion volunteers run great activities at the Manor, in arts and crafts and music. (By the way, if anyone on the Peninsula is a competent weaver, Legion Manor has a table loom and no one able to teach courses using it at the moment. Send me a note if you can help out.) There is a full restaurant and fitness centre—all built with donations through the Legion.
Housing initiatives are also in bloom on Galiano Island. I recently toured the innovative Galiano Green housing site. As Island Tides readers will know, Galiano volunteers have secured the land, beautiful and forested, and will be leasing building sites to those who qualify. This project envisions helping younger people get an affordable roof over their head. The homes are required to have a low ecological footprint—literally designed to fit among the larger trees, none of which will be felled to allow the 20 homes to be built. Each home is to be no more than 1,000 square feet. The cost is low, both because the footprint is small and because the biggest obstacle to home ownership–being able to afford to buy the land—is removed by leasing the land. When Galiano Green volunteers explained the concept to Vancity, they got very excited about the innovation of leasing land for low cost housing. Now the model is being applied elsewhere.
On Salt Spring Island, there have been many laudable efforts. The Murakami family donation of land for housing continues to provide shelter, but the needs are growing. The Salt Spring Island Foundation did a community survey recently and found that the need for affordable housing topped the list of community concerns. There are many local charities on Salt Spring working to provide affordable housing. One of the innovative proposals has been advocated by Salt Spring’s Copper Kettle Community Partnership. Their vision is of a ‘wagon wheel’ housing development, offering many services in a hub, with residents living more independently at the spokes. In an April article in Salt Spring’s Driftwood, organizer Cherie Geauvreau said, ‘At this time, School District No. 64 could use two or three wagon wheels to house couch-surfing students.’
The immediate challenge is to obtain the land. The Copper Kettle group believes that even half-an-acre will allow the first of the wagon wheel housing projects to be built.
Nationally, the First Nations housing crisis is receiving a lot of media attention, but real solutions seem to defy policymakers. One Pender Island resident has spent several years, due to his links with the Arctic, devising affordable, modular, extendable, housing, insulated for extreme conditions; Mike Barnes briefed me on an approach with transportability, speed of assembly, and energy-efficiency benefits.
In the ’90s, Mike worked on the Pender Community Hall Community’s building committee. Anyone who gets a glimpse of his proposed healthy housing design for remote communities will immediately see the similarities with the iconic trussed roof of the Pender Island hall.
The need for low-income, affordable housing is critical and growing. It is a national crisis and touches the lives of seniors, the disabled, young people, and First Nations. This short review does not even cover all the efforts in the riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands. We also have Habitat for Humanity housing, among other charitable efforts.
As is the case in so many ways, Saanich-Gulf Islands is an innovative and creative place, leading the country. But for all this good news of local innovation, there is no replacement for solid, long-term support for low-income and affordable housing by provincial and federal governments. Pushing for federal support, so that every Canadian can count on a decent roof over their head, is one of my goals in my work in Ottawa.
Elizabeth May is the Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands and Leader of the Green Party of Canada.
Originally printed in the Island Tides.